Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Macro level Trends – EM Economic Templates – Glocal “Auto-Replication” of the Californian Original (Part 4)

Thus far thus lengthy web-log has sought to explore and better appreciate how the American global economic template has ever expanded to continue as the prime orchestrator of global enterprise; as worldwide enterprise continues to expand, even if today albeit at a slower pace.

The old adage that “the business of America is business” has in the past both obviously propelled and gained from globalisation, yet today that commercial imperative provides advantages beyond the dreams of 19th century industrialists and bankers.

Arguably far greater direct and indirect influence through not only the conventional exportation improved industrialised goods, processes and associated services to EM nations, but in a now well established communications age, has since Berners-Lee's original work created much of the multi-faceted jigsaw that behind the modern internet.

In doing so, seemingly seeking to maintain its role as the globally governing soft-power agent. Ever greater worldwide social (and thus commercial) impact from the epicentre of California.

Carrot Not Stick -

Now within a period in which the old system of Western military and economic dominance is increasingly countered and challenged by the major EM players across the rest of the world – through official UN channels - America well recognises the importance of a soft-power agenda and associated capabilities.

To counteract the weakened powered of the once entrenched idea of the 20th century “US military-industrial complex, America's self-created 21st century position is that of a “glocal socio-economic enabler”.
Doing so through continued use of the traditional mix of media (cinema and TV), but today critically inserting an already largely screen-based 20th century culture construct into the far bigger, immersive and so influential platform of 'the web', which simultaneously allows portions of the global population (young today but increasingly older) to (through video downloads and similar) inter-mingle as what are effectively “cyber-citizens”.

And in doing so the physical and ethereal merge, creating a continuum whereby the societal 'life constructs' of yesteryear blur; this mass of cyber-connections – now known as 'the cloud' – altering what was only a short time ago a separate sense of self vs others. So in turn changing the dynamic of what was previously the innately private, the social (family/friends), the civil (community), the state (nationhood) and critically commercial life, as both contributor and consumer.

[NB this has been termed 'info-communism' by some thinkers and wordsmiths].

Creating the 'Picture Perfect' World -

Wherein Hollywood once provided the catalysts for global consumer trends through weekend cinema visits and later all-week television, today multi-screen based lives have become the norm. This global lifestyle ostensibly generated by a plethora of largely Californian enterprises which in the past and today's present span the full spectrum of the IT and 'cyber-connected' value chain.

This continual cycle of creation and improvement in hardware, software and content has long moved on from the old Hollywood template of selling the ideology of the 'American Dream', since that has been largely achieved. Since moved onto the innovation required to create the fundamental utilities which together combine to form the component parts of the techno-social infrastructure. An infrastructure which enables the fundamentals of a still very new 21st century world to operate.

'Upstream' are the increasingly affordable device enablers such as Apple's almost mythical iPhone and iPad, Microsoft's 'Surface' tablet and its smart-phone section via the Nokia buy-out.

Screen floating Apps (applications) increasingly provide a personally edited tableau of short-cuts to preferred lifestyle enabling functions; whether organising basic travel schedules, ordering local take-away food, listening to radio, playing games, file sharing etc (with over 250,000 on the Android system). These are increasingly smart-phone user's preferred access points, so commercially highly competitive.

Thereafter, web-browser programmes such as Explorer, Safari, Chrome, the various off-shoots from 'open-source' Mozilla and Firefox. [Though given population saturation in the west such low-value applications now left open to other countries to create browsers to capture EM web-surfers].

To web-entry points such as the massively dominant Google and lesser Yahoo and Bing. To social and professional networking sites such as Facebook and Linked-In, and often correlated virtual communities such as Twitter (of which the US accounts for 10 of the top 18).

To a plethora of e-commerce offerings, whether solely 'clicks' based or 'clicks and bricks' retailing, in which originators such as ebay and Amazon still dominate 'share of mind' and so power-broking capabilities. And onto associated web-payment services such as ebay's PayPal, which today is viewed as a conventional debit/credit system akin to credit-card companies and banks.

And of course, at the 'down-stream' end, amongst the global populace, there is 'cyber-citizen up-loading', wherein individuals and groups can contribute to and seemingly participate within the virtual community constructs, typically of heavy graphic content spanning static and moving imagery. Herein, compared to other video-upload sites such as Yahoo! or even Facebook, the audience power of Google's Youtube cannot be over-stated. With over 1 billion separate visitors per month across 61 countries, 80% or so of upload content originating from outside of the USA.

However, of lesser standing but specific note is the (San Francisco based) Internet Archive, which with a mission of “universal access to all knowledge” appears to be collating all past and present works both from before and during this internet era.

Prevailing Perspectives -

The internet has demonstrated its enormous power over but a short few decades, with of course thinking people split into one of three camps: wholly pro, wholly anti, but the majority recognising the advantages and disadvantages of the net.

Detractors will state that like any dependence related drug, the free-to-all, 'open-source' systems which helped to rapidly grow the fundamental network was developed on the back of underpaid 'ant workers' seeking their own fame and fortune. Similarly the 'open-door, self up-load' systems have likewise been a primary attractor and enabler of spreading web interest, with what has effectively been no-cost content provision for companies such as Google and Facebook. Each has gained enormously from the willingness of global citizens to contribute for free, with relatively few new media-made personalities having made money compared to the massive market capital values of the corporations themselves.

Thus extending the reach of US soft-power interests worldwide, and with such willing 'sheep' (especially amongst the young), little backlash to the development of apparent 'global knowledge archives', which would (as seen historically with Alexandria Libraries) re-affirm the US as the true super-power well after the 21st century has been and gone.

Hence there is ongoing debate about the rights and wrongs of what some see as a new era of remote, web-based US (and possibly Chinese) induced shared imperialism; stretching from possible real-time “eye in the sky” legal enforcement drones to the capture of humanity's entire works of knowledge.

But the fact is that here and now if you are surfing the web, your are very likely to be a what may be described as a “cyber-citizen of the Californian Cloud”.

And as obviously seen by various protests from private individuals to national governments (eg Germany) there is a now a not so covert cyber-connection directly into to America's 'National Security Agency' and ally agencies such as GCHQ. The NSA's own agenda for domestic surveillance will understandably be defended by the argument that the world willingly uses its nationally built information super-highways and so has a right to monitor them.

Yet this raises the question as to whether the older 'military-industrial complex' has simply been updated by an IT surveillence mandate which may or may not have associated consumer informational advantages to the likes of Google, Facebook, with Mark Zuckerberg's call on Washington seen as empty rhetoric given mutual advantage.

This apparent watershed for America's pseudo-stewardship of the web comes as undoubted increasing concerns arise from a more confident remaining world.

A Re-Cap of Worldwide Transition -

The previous 25 years or so has seen great worldwide change as many of what were previously classed as 2nd and 3rd world nations encouraged internal economic policies which maximised advantage of their their core attributes and competences, whether based upon commodities, heavy industry, light industry or people's capabilities; an optimum mix of all.

Although today somewhat contracted and slowed, such EM output(s) have formed a global supply chain of activities - modern-day 'silk roads' and 'spice trails' - which previously led to the economic apex of North America and Europe, and still does; but now equally re-circulates to serve the increasingly more sophisticated realms of B2B and B2C commerce across EM regions.

After ongoing Western economic expansion over the last two centuries, albeit with collapses and revivals, it appears the fact that the 'consumer saturated' West has been for decades a region of arguable value destruction. The demand for ever more goods and service content being squeezed by ever harsher competition, a process only made viable – but only over a short term - by what was to be revealed as baseless credit expansion; the pulling back of that 'illusionary curtain' in 2007/8.

Today the outcome of this much shifted economic dynamic for many of the world's people's is encapsulated in the idea of the 'Shifting Middle'.

This a fundamental concept to the 'global future' wherein the consumer and credit excesses of the once comfortable and very much envied West (represented by the SUV and mass designer consumption) has under-gone a global reversal.

Wherein EM regions' new consumers take on the mantle “hyper-shoppers” so as to demonstrate themselves as successful, and critically globally brand aware. Deploying their “new money” gained from entrepreneurship and improved private-sector salaries, they are simply in effect re-enacting the first phase modern consumption era of the late 19th and early 20th centuries across Europe and North America.

Importantly, unlike the EM roller-coaster rides of 1980s and 1990s when introduced (or re-introduced) to global capitalism with 'boom and bust' experiences, a greater appreciation of the importance of far stronger national balance sheets and more acute budgeting has shown that many EM countries are able to better cope with the demands of global capital markets; even when temporarily erratic.

Hence, much of the globally available 'value added' to be created and captured will come from existing and new supply chains across those goods and services sectors which exist far beyond historical western boundaries. Given the “size of the prize”, this sets an ever harder task for those western biased firms not already well integrated; given ever more pronounced intra-EM relationship building.

Furthermore the ongoing desire for mergers and acquisitions of western firms by healthily aspirant EM conglomerates and sector-specific firms – being either cash rich, obtaining asset-backed finance or stock issuance for re-capitalisation will obviously advance their own goals toward 'global standing', broadened distribution channels and new research and development facilities, so able to capture high-value solutions / IPR.

[NB Though in practice this is often easier said than done, given the usual practice of self-interested agenda amongst most firms' managements - western included.

The automotive realm has seen cases of the weaker 'prey' gain internal advantage, by demanding an ever bigger financial contribution from the newly acquiring EM parent to achieve strategic goals. That drain often more value-destructive so than the apparent strategic riches actually delivered].

Toward a Re-Balanced World -

Today we fortunately live in an increasingly 're-balanced' world, afforded by globalised interaction.

Availability of officially generated economic data providing statistical illustrations of this ongoing re-balancing is available from numerous public and private sources. But perhaps instead better to view such change at ground level, whether physically or virtually.

The majority of western children (of increasing ethnic backgrounds) are no longer kept ignorance of portions of the external world - and indeed vice versa - as was the case through the 'cold war' and well into the 1980s. Now living in what may be viewed as an increasingly internationalist world with accordant internationalist outlook and internationalist values.

Inter racial social mingling within ever more ethnically diverse large cities and towns has resulted from short and long term immigration policies, the political imperatives toward the bi-lateral advantages of trade agreements open-up not only financial but cross-cultural flows, and improved opportunities for international travel for many people spanning leisure, education and commerce opens hearts and minds.

But unlike even 20 years ago the major influence change is that of the 'down-loadable' world.

A vicarious, remote yet intriguing experience of cyber-access into foreign lands is now well established, whether viewing geographies academically from far above through satellite snapshots to the far more personal of viewing of someone else's video-captured, downloaded travels; Montevideo via video, just one possibility.

However, it is the increasing ability to exist within the seemingly unbounded world of global cyber-space, which for many has by virtue of time spent, become as real as their own immediate physical surroundings. Indeed positively hyper-real (better than reality) since it offers immediacy, breadth and depth of experience, often of the often unfamiliar but attractive.

That may be to help satisfy the ambitions of a financially constrained yet highly ambitious EM student undertaking web-based learning from the free-to-view 'Khan Academy' (originated from the US). Or conversely a very wealthy but aged European seeking to construct a set of destinations for a 'bucket list' world tour.

The crux is that whilst for many of the remaining poor Thomas Friedmann's pronounciation that “The World is Flat” remains as elusive as ever, the fact is that his identified prime drivers which under-pin the thesis are still valid; even if ironically the re-balancing dynamic now presents certain advantages of operational 're-shoring' back to the West across various sectors.

Info-Tech Jigsaw Meets Ethnographic Mosaic -

So with an apparent ongoing metamorphosis of the USA away from a geo-political global mechanism and toward a role as an info-tech powered enabler of socio-economic value creation, it obviously recognises a need to appreciate the emergent matrix-like conceptual framework.

A global framework which matures and meshes across the two vital dimensions of:

1. 'Technology and Content Enablement':
Comprising of the hardware and software that make up the skeletal structure of this newly arrived and ever deepening cyber paradigm.

2. 'Cross-Cultural Assimilation' required:
Comprising of hybridisation formulae across human activity over the full life-span in which cyber-based and cyber-related activities become the cultural norm, so provide for an arena by which the 'glocal' can be made manifest.
Thus the web and its access devices and contents effectively replicate with far greater technical complexity, societal influence and personal immersion, the former 'alternative reality' created by the Hollywood film industry.

However, whilst film undoubtedly draws the viewer meta-physically inward to merge the 'subject' (viewer) and 'object' (depicted picture), the relative passiveness of the watcher meant that he/she was always being 'fed' the material.

In stark contrast, the internet truly absorbs the viewing participant into the 'screen-world', because he/she is fundamentally proactive. Furthermore, very importantly, because increasingly that screen-world has become an information-based, intermediate space between the viewer and the physical world.

The cyber-screen increasingly becomes the 'help-point' for interaction with the external world, which by virtue of the web's growing omnipotence regards people and products, means that it becomes almost the de facto (even if hyper-real) 'life environment'.

The 'Looking Glass' Feedback Loop -

Given the absorbed potency of this 'through the looking glass' environment, that which is graphically created to populate this virtual world becomes 'as real, if not more powerful, as the surrounding physical reality, often the preferred environment, which in turn powers a feed-back loop impetus back into the physically real world.
Such a cultural feedback loop – from beyond back into reality - looks set to continue the expanding trend established in from mid-20th century America onward.
Whereas 20th century European simulacrum tended to be more conventionally applied by the classically inspired minds of the establishment, seen by the UK's “re-editions” of mock Gothic late Victorian villas, psuedo Arts and Crafts 1920s houses, 1930s Tudor-esque suburban houses, the 1990s redesign of the black taxi and later the neo-classical New Routemaster bus; things were different on America's West Coast.

Although the 'old' East Coast mentality was likewise restrained Anglo-centricism given its narrow establishment roots, the comparatively younger West Coast was the direct opposite. Wealth here was firstly created by the “Go West” wagon train pioneers of the early 19th century who developed the small Latino towns of the coast into modern cities. In doing so they became the new Anglo-establishment, but who later experienced rivalry from inbound 'emigrees' (typically wealthy jews) during the late 19th century and early 20th century.

So just as their began an internal “culture war” inside Europe between 'old-money' and 'new-money', so a similar episode began in the USA, centred in California.

[NB Design history's discourse between classicism and modernism rarely truly reflects the politicised nature of this power struggle. In the 1920s both Germany's Weimar Republic and Russia's Early Communism are illustrations, wherein a heavily jewish influenced modernism (see Bauhaus originators) sought to super-imposed a supposedly classless aesthetic over the long reigning historically evolved 'establishment aesthetic. (Later post-modernism became the ironic convergence of the two polemics: eg Disney's HQ with classically deployed giant dwarfs].

Thus from 1920 onward with empty reaches of California that were to become suburbs, mains streets, early shopping malls and commercial centres, were effectively viewed as a 3-D blank canvas by those who had made money from Hollywood cinema and its associated supporting enterprises.

Given the mutual distrust of the time between protestant and jew, and exclusion from establishment activities such as elite country-clubs and golf-clubs, jewish enterprise sought to in a way seek to create a different (anti-establishment) Californian environment; an early but powerful form of 'culture jamming'.
Thus new aesthetics were sought to displace the classical, and various sources were used from Austro-Germanic modernism (eg the AEG building) to inspiration drawn from Hollywood visual story-telling itself such as the theatrical backdrops and studio sets, the bright colours of original cartoon arwork and especially so 'cinematic futurism'.

A new palette of possibilities were seen that could be deployed as the new Californian architectural and environmental aesthetic, leading to 'pop-u-lux', sourced from replication of the powerfully influencing aspirational lifestyles seen on the silver screen.

Perhaps for the first time, but the citizens of California populated not an organically grown place, but an automated, manufactured replication or interpretation of fantasy-lands created by what was originally the real estate development body Hollywoodland.

So a massively powerful new commercial template had then been born, by which views of new, better highly aspirational lifestyles were created for silver-screen mass consumption – creating the 'American Dream' – and in new districts like West Hollywood, Beverley Hills, Burbank, Culver City and Windsor Hills, that dream-scape could be physically stepped into.

Within an automotive theme, Detroit was also undergoing cinematic influence, with General Motors the first to deploy the “colour and art” skills of Harley Earl, poaching him from a previous post as Hollywood set designer. The ability for people to drive lower, wider, longer, sleeker, chrome laden automobiles then completed the ideal of 'living the dream'.

Thereafter the basic commercial model for steering, promoting and re-inventing mass consumption (through designed obsolescence of cosmetic trends) had been formed.

Contemporary “Auto-Replication” of Californian Original -

Though the 20th century saw major economic expansion of Europe and the US, the fact that the cultural semiotics of European tradition were so entrenched meant that the socio-commercial experimentation that is 'image-replication' was largely localised to California.

However, in a very much smaller manner it was also seen sporadically across the rest of the country along its arterial highways (eg renowned Route 66) wherein the Auto-Aesthetic and Cartoon Aesthetic had taken hold via chromatic road-side diners and giant-sized follies providing identities for local motels.

Nevertheless, the regurgitated images of Californian and highway 'pop-u-lux' environments – through magazines, books, television and cinema – have since been absorbed into the popular consciousness of the westerners, from Paris, Texas to Paris, France.

That imagery compounded by to date a California-centric and California-seduced global media industry, and the previous globalisation of American pop-u-lux iconography, most notably McDonald's 'golden arches'.

Plus of course the constant mass-media reference to the fantasy-escape location of Las Vegas (in Neighbouring Nevada) where what is essentially an adult theme-park was developed in the late 1980s. The central backbone of 'The Strip' consisting of levels of contrived simulacra including a miniature New York, a miniature Eiffel Tower, a miniature Venice, a full size pyramid etc.

Hence, now at a point in history where the US itself has both dramatically slowed in terms of overall trickle-down economic strength and expansion, and also has started to become far more protective of its 'heritage environment' (both natural and man-made structures), the irony is that America may no longer be able to re-play its self-devised televisual socio-commercial growth template. If indeed able, only so in a far smaller and less impacting way.

Recognising this, investment-auto-motives believes this is precisely why the US has been the prime actuator - at a tremendous cost of billions if not trillions of US dollars - in developing the world wide web.

Just as the 'televisual' of cinema and television provided the template for the last 'American Century', so the web offers itself as the perfect image immersive vehicle for American influence across the Berners-Lee ideal of a borderless cyber-space world, which in turn as 'the cloud' sits metaphorically above other sovereign lands.

[NB the implications of this has been well recognised by foreign governments since the web's initial expansion].

“Auto-Replication” within the Emerging World -

American commercial and cultural influence to date upon foreign cultures is plain to see.

Japan's post WW2 sporting love affair with Baseball, the Middle-East's previous adoration of large gas-guzzling V8 cars and SUVs, India's own 'Bollywood', Pan-African US style freeway network ambitions, Brazil's desire to mimic the 'sports economy' and promotion of 'High-school Proms' to limit children dropping-out of education.

Looking forward, as EM countries increasingly expand internal and intre-regional telecoms capabilities to equal the user saturation levels and high connectivity speeds of the advanced Triad region's, the aforementioned socio-commercial matrix that is the 'Ethnographic Mosaic' coupled with the 'Info-Tech Jigsaw' will present new challenges and opportunities for major corporations, SMEs, small enterprises and new start-ups on both sides of the now closing AM – EM divide.

However, as seen in Part 3, it is inevitable that those commercial minds of California and Wall Street will seek to maintain the historic pattern of evolutionary business model adaptation.

Whether that be sold wholly as production rights, the US made product distributed to local partners or licensed for local transmission (freeview, cable and satellite), or indeed (as in the case of Disney's and Universal's theme-parks) effectively transplanted 'as is' upon foreign soil or with adaption for local taste and sensibilities (such as Tokyo Disneyland), and operated either directly or via franchise (as per Tokyo Disney), or indeed the former followed by the latter.

Given its long historical commercial interaction with the rest of the world, the US has long recognised the manner by which it must effectively proportionately hybridise both American and of domestic foreign cultures (eg Tokyo DisneySea). And as seen previously has successfully achieved this to date through 'centrifugal' and 'centripetal' initiatives inbound and outbound; to increasingly create 'glocal' connections.

The difference today is that with the advent of the web, yet another layer cultural interaction has been created, but with its innate attractiveness and so social power comes yet greater complexity regards cultural interaction.

Unlike much of the rest of the western world, Washington's recognised by the 1970s that California should operate as a 'global bridge', with a much debated but remaining open-door immigration policy, attracting Latinos, Asians (Japanese, S.Koreans, Indians and Chinese) to its universities, start-ups and established firms.

Thus California already has an embedded 'glocal' cultural advantage by way of its short-term, and medium-term immigration policies leading inevitably for those who have something to offer with dual homeland and US citizenships.

[NB In real terms it is a strategic strength that Canada, the UK and continental European countries must envy, and one which Japan must recognise as requiring drastic immigration policy change to secure its global future; even if it upsets its American ally].

Disney's Velvet Glove -

The fact is that from its earliest days Disney's imagery, its Mickey Mouse Club and overall compounded brand strength has gained the attention of people worldwide over many generations. The logo, characters and productions creating a parent to child link which since the 1930s has become a prime cultural thread.

[NB Whilst Universal, Warner Bros, Time Warner etc have enjoyed success, none have the engrained 'brand equity' of Disney gained from longevity].

From the initial cartoon days of Mortimer Mouse and Steamboat Willie, morphing into Mickey Mouse, the 1937 song “hi ho, hi ho, its off to work we go” deployed in Snow White and the Seven Dwarves to imbue a national work ethic, mid-century efforts such as 'Lady and the Tramp' seeking to reduce upper-class vs immigrant antagonism, to the re-hashing of Europe's old fairy-tales as with Chicken Little.

Disney-Pixar as the “All American” Vehicle -

Previously investment-auto-motives highlighted America's need to recapture its credibility with foreign states, post Iraq, Afghanistan and the politically explosive mobile-phone hacking affair of world leaders by the NSA.

The film 'Saving Mr Banks' will be viewed by those external analysts encompassing a broad-spectrum perspective as a small but useful component part in such a necessary charm offensive.

As intimated previously, Washington is keen to once again re-represent itself as the global good. Amongst many foreign policy initiatives under this banner, it no doubt wishes to re-imagine, recapture and redeploy Walt Disney's father figure profile.

'Saving Mr Banks' acts as a partial and subtle bio-pic, centred upon the fractious but ultimately successful efforts to secure the film rights to Mary Poppins from the female author PL Travers.

This story 'based on actual events' appears an outright effort to demonstrate to the rest of the world – perhaps EM nations specifically – of America's willingness to effectively purchase the stories which comprise the social fabric and and cultural pillars of foreign land.

Critically wishing to be seen as a credible, responsible steward.

Yet whilst this remains part of the corporate strategic agenda to broaden appeal, influence and profits, the Walt Disney Company also appreciates that its core capability is the personification of animals and inanimate objects from the everyday world around us.

This spans from Mickey Mouse to Jiminy Cricket and far beyond within the animal kingdom. However, given the social impact of the automobile, its myriad of 'ready-made' characterisations derived from size, shape, face-like front and obvious dynamic movement – all leading to the pet-like affinity many owners have - perhap only the car has a plausibility to be transformed. And from a child's perspective, turning objects into animated beings through play, it is almost natural.

Internationalist Appeal of Characterful Cars -

Previously, Part 3 highlighted how that plucky little VW Beetle 'Herbie' was deployed an audience draw from 1969 onward throughout the 1970s, 1980s and to recent times. But undeniably the appeal of that character wained as American, western and global economies improved and people enjoyed more modern cars, thus the world-wide car-parc of original Beetles depleted and the everyday social connection weakened.

But Disney (and indeed the auto-industry at large) continued to well recognise that there had not been a generalised social disconnect to the car by the public, simply that different models had different levels of appeal, and even for the best loved the social connection essentially governed by the on-the-road life-span of specific models.

Moreover, as part of its supposedly impartial brand values, Disney could not be seen to effectively sponsor one manufacturer in preference to another, or be seen as 'bought-off' by product placement; plus the fact that any negative real-world impact upon a single 'chosen' brand (eg popularity decline, PR disaster etc) would impact Disney's own income stream. Better not to “nail Disney's colours to one mast”.

Instead, given the plethora of vehicle brands, models and a variety generated by history, nationality and global expansion of the auto-industry, far better to open Disney's doors to all types – intentionally reminiscent of America's indiscriminate historical immigration stance – so as to re-create on screen, through merchandise and via themeparks, an animated 'world of cars'.

Named “Cars” to provide simplicity and international appeal, and to be obviously created through ever improving CGI animation enabling ever bettered rendering, but which could alsoif required provide various 'pictorial canvases' from the intentionally cartoonesque of original Disney to the photo-realistic required for immersive video game participation.

[NB Without an in-house animation facility of its own, Disney initially negotiated a (seemingly) split deal arrangement with Pixar Animation Studios of Emeryville, CA. Pixar had been operating since 1986 as an independent entity (after Apple's Steve Jobs financially assisted to extract the unit from LucasFilm). But a commercial disagreement pertaining to non-split ownership of rights created tensions until on 05.05.2006 Disney acquired Pixar outright. Between 2005 to 2013 Pixar has produced 14 animated productions including 'Toy Story', 'Monsters Inc', 'Finding Nemo', 'The Incredibles' etc ].
[NB It must be stated herein that investment-auto-motives is only familiar with a few of these productions since myself (Turan Umran Ahmed) is not a member of the general target audience. But is for obvious reasons familiar with 'Cars'].

“Cars (1)”, “Car Toon”, “Cars 2” and “Cars 3” -

The first of the 'Cars' stories in 2006 was a subtly powerful attempt to capture the hearts and minds of the young and old relative to their own vehicle affiliations. Contrasting a modern race-car's “100 mph” ambitious (city) lifestyle (represented by Lightening McQueen) with the long-slowed lifestyle of forgotten small-town USA (represented by Mater and others) – once integral to American life but previously by-passed by the speeding Freeway of modernity. The film was released a year or so before the cracks in the over-blown US economy appeared. The remit of 'Cars ' was to highlight the advantages of a 'down-shifted' life with old fashioned values such as community, caring and sharing; all as part of the local economy's socio-economic agenda. It would prove highly pertinent as the socio-economic fabric of the USA became effectively shredded.

It was well received by the cinema critics across the US and worldwide, with the typical anthropomorphism of automotive characters put through testing times so notionally aiding their maturity – thus echoing child development across id to ego to super-ego.

But the fact that beyond the immediate character-driven plot was one of a changing America which had to re-discover its slower-paced old fashioned values so as to assist social cohesion and a more localised attitude. (This reflecting the budget cut-backs in major city and state budget cut-backs). It also seemingly sought to generate a new patriotism regards the US auto industry prior to GM's bankruptcy and re-emergence and the likewise collapse and revitalisation of Chrysler (under foreign FIAT)

“Cars (1)” was indeed a popular and welcomed story by many US citizens, ostensibly pre-empting the consequences of the 2007/8 financial crisis and its social impact.

The well known plot centres around the juxtaposition of until then the fast-paced dynamic of American city life, as represented by the more shallow race car character of Lightning McQueen, and the slow-pace of a backwater town previously by-passed by the speeding modern freeway (ie modern times) and represented by a cast of seemingly yesteryear characters 'led' by Mater the battered old tow truck. Forced to spend time in the town of Radiator Springs McQueen begins to re-evaluate his life and ultimately recognises the importance of small town values and relationships.

A message which began to ring true for much of the 'downsized' population after 2007/8 and obviously especially pertinent to those with young children who recognised the mutually supporting roles of nuclear and extended families and friends. Its message about mentally and morally returning to an earlier more simplistic golden-time (also that of Disney's heyday) appears to have since been influential.

“Cars Toon” is a spin-off commercial initiative, presenting character led short stories, created for Disney's own XD channel (reaching 71% of US households), broader television and DVD formats. To date it has focused upon two distinct boundaries. First the world-wide, travel-bound adventure tales of friendly and comical 'Mater' the breakdown truck; who was actually the #2 character in the films but a character to which younger children are drawn, but now 'side-kicked' by 'Lightening McQueen' (ex #1).And secondly, the goings-on in home-town 'Radiator Springs' in which the lives of these and other characters are played-out.

“Cars 2” suffered more so from press critics, no doubt perceiving the film as little more than a poorly constructed sequel to leverage the goodwill of the original and maximise merchandising potential with its additional characters.

The plot consists of the backdrop of a world championship race for McQueen (setting the scene for a wide cast of international vehicular characters) and the drawn-in involvement of Mater put between an internationalist set of western heroes and ex-Eastern bloc affiliated villains; all involved in a conspiracy to intentionally undermine a new eco-friendly so that its seeming champion can actually gain more from his interests from the old fashioned oil sector.

It is actually a well constructed plot given its subtle world-orientated agenda (and seemingly beyond the appreciation of most film critics) but does proffer a not so unbiased 'new energy' message which panders to California's own interests (such as Tesla Motors) and equally a bias against 'Putin's East and similar oil rich CIS regions, even if displayed as a comical defunct yesteryear CCCP . Interestingly however, it does tread a political fine-line with US allies, with the prime villain being Britain's Sir Axel-Rod whilst simultaneously bestowing a similar knighthood on the new hero Mater; California then intimating at what it sees as British 'double-dealing'.

Again the adventures of the characters are superimposed over the bigger backdrop of the American international agenda. It is one which seeks to redirect the bogey-man figure away from the international arena and specifically 'Islamic Fundamentalism' and toward domestic growth agenda issues. However, the past is not forgotten by California, subtly hinting at that retreated threat, via the major irritations caused to the public created when fighting 'international terrorism' such as overtly strict airport security controls (removal of shoes and belts etc) made humorous with car character 'extras'.

[NB Also very interesting is the way in which certain car models (such as the 1970s BMW 2002) are made subtly visible in specific places ranging from airport hall to casino. It may be the case that one animator drives a 2002, or possibly a manner to raise the car's profile and price amongst enthusiasts, or to add to BMW's historical American connection.

Plans for “Cars 3” has just been revealed by Disney's CEO Bon Iger.

Whether this continues in an internationalist theme by moving on to new foreign lands (via the threads of the World Grand Prix or Mater's fighting international crime) or indeed returns to the USA backdrop (to presumably intermingle “big city America” with “small town America” for economic growth) remains to be seen.

But there is no doubt that Disney's ambitions for its own domestic and internationalist expansion are being constantly revisited.

A World of Cars -

Undoubtedly when Disney-Pixar first considered “Cars” the movie it was wholly conscious of the manner by which a global audience could be reached using the now homogeneous entity of the car.
Yet crucially, simultaneously able to deploy a myriad of stereo-typically humorous ethnic personas through the different vehicle models types and related character.

The 'seen it all' Sheriff in the form of an old Mercury Eight, the 'down-shifted' motel owner and love interest in a Porsche 911, an enthusiastic Italian FIAT cinquecento, his counterpart forklift truck, a hippy VW microbus whose liberal ways irritates a veteran WW2 Willys Jeep, the 'big mamma' appeal wrapped within a 1950s showcar style, her partner as a late 1950s Chevy Impala 'lo-rider', and a host of others.
The later filmic introductions in 'Cars 2' of British, Italian, French, German, Japanese, (once) Eastern bloc characters and many others thus expands the international personality platform of the Disney sub-brand so as to all intense purposes be seen as increasingly worldwide.

With only perhaps greater focus on Latin America, India and China to come, perhaps in 'Cars 3'.

So the world portrayed through automobiles and criticallyy through the background of de-constructed and re-constructed associated automobilia; wherein car parts become the aesthetic forms for everything from mountain peaks by way of hood emblems to era-specific architecture displayed using era approapriate items, whether that be the pistons shown as petrol forecourt pillars of a 1950s pop-u-lux era Radiator Springs or the 1910 headlamp surrounds which form part of the lattice metal-work of a Parisienne marketplace.

By doing so the world at large as we know it, is alternatively recast to befit a world of car-based characters; a ploy often used in children's animation to provide an enhancing context

However, in doing so, the reality-altered backdrops and environments themselves provide possible new inspiration for tomorrow's architects and planners, taking the feed-back loop seen by Californian pop-u-lux and re-deploying it using contemporary screen-derived imagery. In which case portions of our newly built surroundings would be effectively that of the irony of new 3-D simulacra contrivences sourced from established 2-D based simulacrum amalgamations. So continuing our post-modern era of cultural contextual naval-gazing for new inspirations.

A 3-D 'Cars' World: Theme-Park -

Although in-situ theme-parks had existed well before the mid 1950s, an early rendition exemplified by London's upper-middle class Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens espousing foreign tastes as opened in the 1660s onto to the mass-market appeal of New York's Coney Island, it was not until Walt Disney opened his 3-D wonder-world of until then 2-D screen characters and fantasy surroundings that the term 'themepark' was truly established.

Disneyland was originally planned to sit beside the animation studios in Burbank, north to central LA, but it lacked required acreage and access And no doubt the local municipality preferred to avoid the stream of tourists and instead grow a higher value activity its cinematic and televisual

The attraction needs no explaining, itself reproduced with varying expanding and suitable content across the globe, from Florida to Tokyo to Paris to Hong Kong to Shanghai. During this expansionary process the original site has likewise been updated to suit Disney output.

Thus in June 2012, after 6 years growing publicity, the new attraction of 'Cars Land' was opened, appropriately utilising a portion of old car park ear-marked for development.

In essence a life-sized representation of the imagined Main Street that makes-up much of 'Radiator Springs', itself portrayed as a revived relic of the 1950s. Individual lots given the commercial spin of variously themed gift shops which accord to the sensibilities of the relevant character that notionally resides within. Trundling around voicing witty phrases are moving life-size models of the primary cast adding the required dynamic.

The coupled attraction is the Radiator Springs Racers, offering the riders a within the screen experience provided by cast interactions. (The ride deploys the same 'slot-car inspired' mechanical ride system as the Chevrolet sponsored 'Test Track' at EPCOT in DisneyWorld, Florida).
The obvious corporate manifesto is to immerse visitors into at least for a short time the feeling that physical and fantasy realities have melded to provide periods of escapist and dream-like joy.

EM Internationalisation of “Cars” Themed Parks -

With a successful implementation of the Disneyland “Cars Park”, it seems likely that Disney will hope to replicate the original across the globe. But altered as necessary regards character cast and environs to befit the different regional histories. This expected as 'Cars' probably expands to draw from many various EM locales.

And so the adventures of the central characters to date effectively replayed with new, and where positive closely associated older, vehicle shapes, and the use of various regionally well known character-actors to replace lesser known US character-actor highlights the recognised importance of local orientation.

The fact that the character Mater (the tow truck) has a near look-a-like by way of Ivan (the Russian-esque tow-truck) indicates that the ever growing new set of characters with localised national personas could likewise be developed as core local characters.

Thus the roll-out of similar Cars-centric theme-parks across EM geographies could either take on the original US format, or be cosmetically localised, depending upon the sales popularity of media and merchandise sales, or indeed merge both.

To this end then, unlike the Disney mega-parks of the past, some of which saw poor early returns on investment, a new more risk-averse business template may be created that demands smaller stakes and could be under-written or co-ventured with EM governments and firms.

One which deploys a set of smaller sized “Cars Parks” through a greater number of countries. A parallel here to the ubiquitous American shopping mall, where an exact or similar design replicated time an again, would allow for great economies of scale, with a near one time design and development process, reduced cost build materials and speedy construction.

Disneyfication: Creating New Realities -

As portrayed, the modern-day idioms of 'simulacrum' (the evolutional copy) and 'hyper-reality' (that of an experience which improved upon the original) have from their European historic and 20th century roots been 'extruded' yet further by the culture moulding minds of California.

Southern California's Anaheim promoting and demonstrating original metaphorical entry into the cinema screen, whilst Mid California's Palo Alto and Silicon Valley created the newer but far more 'reality blurred' and commensurately powerful cyber-space based web-world.

But presently sat squarely between these two past and future fantasy realms sits the modern town of Celebration, Florida; a Disney originated master-planned ideal. It is positioned next to Disneyland, and has a direct streetway, but since Disney Corp's promised return of control to democratic powers, it has fundamentally operated autominously.

Celebration is best considered a community experiment which by virtue of its town-values related to 'new urbanism' (civic mindedness, ecological, sustainable and 'socially temporate') ultimately recalls the historic manifestos of the Garden City Movement seen in the late 19th and early 20th centuries in the UK, Germany and USA.

Critically, whilst much of the architecture and layout may be viewed as all too Disneyesque in design and execution (bordering set-like) the environment was planned to evoke small town living with a quiet, safe and intimate 'vibe'. To European eyes the multitude of interspersed mock-style buildings ironically recalls the 'living set' of the film 'The Truman Show' or context for a 'Stepford Wives' life; but in actuality has aesthetic overtones not too removed from conventionally created small upper-middle class towns in Florida and S.California, which themselves are often highly stylised and likewise 'bound' nature into manageable chunks.

The critical aspect is that for inhabiting and visiting populations the town offers the old Garden City ideal but overlaid with re-interpretations of popular culture iconography. And befitting the less high-brow American, it has deliberately not deployed an arguably more tasteful prescription by way of a local vernacular (as per the planners of Poundbury in the UK). Given the location next to Disneyland, the corporation simply accorded to modern American cultural sensibilities, which ironically has itself helped mould.

The point is that Celebration – its mix of regulated architectural fakery and regulated living agreements to maintain standards and order – is the 21st century's version of good living to many people, itself a much wished for dream-like environ for many of the worlds aspirational EM peoples.

Re-Building the Physical From the Ethereal -

Thus we have seen how Disney has via its themeparks and into its experimental town, managed to re-build the physical from the ether of imagined screen orientated worlds.

As the physically real and virtual reality continue to form the basis of a new hyper-reality so the man-made environment around us will be affected by the ever more conjoined 'internet of things'.

Modern 'cyber-citizens' then have and will increasingly experience this 'new world' around them very differently. As it develops to become the norm such people will probably have a far more accepting, less questioning manner, as IT devices themselves become increasingly absorbed as lifestyle enablers, gaining ever more emotional attachment, from the formality of an 'electronic concierge' to the absolute reliance of a “Hal pal”. (Hal the name used for the central computer in 2001: A Space Odyssey).

[NB Indeed, research into the 'animorphisation' of electronic items has been long ongoing, especially in Japan during the 1980s/90s and increasingly so by the likes of the US's DARPA and Boston Dynamics. So the notion of a much evolved Tamagotchi though far more animalistically plausible as a pet-like 'device character' (perhaps based on present robotic work such as BigDog/LittleDog) serving its supposed master/mistress to interface with cyber-space through contactless interaction (as per cars and credit cards) is not far-fetched. Thus within 'the internet of things' everyone might want or need the interpretative device such as K-9 from the BBC's Dr Who series. (This very alpha-numeric prevalent in computing circles)].

The Glocal 'New Horizon' -

Thus the old phrases of “its an upside-down world” or “a topsy-turvy world” do indeed pointing to the underlying emergent and philosophical realities upon us.

But whilst that metaphor of the very altered old AM vs EM relationship (that of 'global economic vertically') proves itself undoubtedly true, the new world being constructed also consists of a soft-power 'inversion'. w

Whereby the simulacra inspired screen image, itself evolved from either the post-modern physical world or the now embedded info-entertainment sourced cultural overlay, itself increasingly becomes used as the source for inspiration or copy+ artifact in the physical world. Whereby technological progression - such as the science of 3-D printing - is able to make such conjecture more than possible when made affordable via industrial economies of scale.

Hence the philosophical acumen, operational capabilities and ethnically diverse workforce of corporations such as Disney (and their broadly talented supplier base) could indeed when interjected into the 'Structural Jigsaw of the Web' and the global 'Ethnographic Mosaic' provide the under-pinnings for a “Glocal New Horizon”

The “glocal auto-replication of the Californian original” may yet be the (overt or less obvious) west coast corporate ambition, which in turn serves the micro-economic template needs of Emerging Market countries and thus drives their macro-economic agendas.

Walt Disney recognised from the foundational sketches of his cartoon layouts: that it is better to build from the bottom-up, than to try and re-configure from the top-down.

[At Disney] “we keep moving forward, opening new doors and doing new things, because we're curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths”...and after all... “it's kinda fun to do the impossible”

Monday, 3 March 2014

Macro level Trends – EM Economic Templates – Glocal “Auto-Replication” of the Californian Original (Part 3)

The remainder of this ongoing web-log consists of this commentary and following Part 4.

They seek to examines and conject upon how the past, present and futures of what are today world-wide entrenched American media and automotive interests, through acting symbiotically, will seek to maintain an ongoing 'Californiacation' of relevant world markets. But one which critically, whilst invariably further commercialising foreign cultures, will do so with increased sensitivity and subtlety.

California's 21st century focus upon the 'post-industrial' (as well as seemingly simultaneously America's rediscovery of 'mid-value industrial' to revitalise an internal economy), primarily relates to the immediacy and so theoretically 'high-value' commercial arenas of: 'info-comms' access, entertainment (and 'info-tainment') and personal transport.

To better appreciate what lays behind the 'Californiacation' drive for new era glocalisation this Part 3 seeks to convey its underlying (heavily post-modern) concept. Wherein the process of cultural progression and indeed new culture forming, utilising commercial entities, plays the critical role.

To do so across the global space, the learning born from the previous 60 years within the USA - and concentrated within California specifically – will be refined and effectively re-run.

Socio-Economics -

In order to maintain a powerful yet globally accepted soft-power stance, the US will continue to follow the usual historical practice seen with ancient world powers. That of adapting and subtly shifting the belief systems or perspectives which surround socially engrained traditions. So the re-shaping of cultural norms to create ever more socio-connected commercial opportunities.

One example was the now near-fabled adoption of Santa Clause's red and white, fur trimmed out-fit. Added to Christmas cards and general seasonal advertising, it was apparently introduced to befit the red and white branding of the Coca Cola Company. More recently, given the importance of multi-culturalism and need to span various religions (not just Christianity), Santa has been replaced by the brilliantly lit Coca Cola Truck, with reflective overtones of what many faiths call the “festival of the lights” (diwali etc).

To do so, as historically seen by the views of Plato, Nietzsche and more recently Jean Baudrillard, will rely upon the ideology of 'simulacrum' and its plural 'simulacra'; as pertaining to the perception of an ever more man-made, self referential, 'reality'.

'Reality' is obviously an ongoing, but ever more man-made, self-referential construct. The commentaries of Wittgenstein (on use of language), Barthes (on semiotics) and Neitzsche (on seeking truth) perhaps the most pertinent.

Future Belief vs Disbelief -

Often socially constructed, and so accepted, schisms exist between perceived reality and perceived truth. Blurred areas exist from the desire for inter-relationship harmony, or from a hierarchically derived acquiescence, whereby obvious and less obvious non-truths are absorbed. An unwillingness to accept or 'compute' such social norms (ie perceiving as purely right and wrong) is one supposed sign of certain 'learning disabilities' (ie prevalent in Downs' Syndrome ). This especially the case on on moral grounds wherein bad behaviour of another child/person or indeed the world at large is overlooked by adults: those with authority and supposedly superior morality to the child/teenager. (The 1955 James Dean film 'Rebel Without a Cause' uses this internal conflict as its unstated central plot-line).

It is plausible that in an ever more created and critically perceptionally manipulated world, that such a schism becomes greater and so more problematic; as the supposed reality of screen-based stories and images become in themselves 'unbelieved', creating an increasingly disaffected society – the very opposite of social stability.
Whilst no doubt advantageous to the medical fraternity (therapies and drugs) such social fragmentation further undermines the already depleted 'grande narratives' required to unify society and societies.

Under this possible scenario, people and consumers will seek-out those authentic, 'truth-telling' brands and companies, those with heritage and seen as socially responsible and positively proactive.
Those for whom CSR (corporate social responsibility) was a byword long before the phrase was coined.

It is believed by investment-auto-motives that such companies – exemplified by The Walt Disney Company – in decades to come will increasingly be seen as such social guardians; and though today their appears a conflict between social influence and commercial opportunism, these two apparent contradictions will be more harmoniously integrated.

To do so will require intelligent management of an increasingly globalised society's 'modern hieroglyphs', the semiotic imagery and cognitive associations that make-up social constructs, their short-hand connections and the fundamental underlying 'belief maps'.

To do such firms will inevitably continue to rely upon 'progressive copies' of said imagery, or 'simulacra', which itself will be based upon selectively used and indeed combined national. regional and glocal imagery with its inherent meanings and values.

Simulacra: a Definition -

This term has been peppered throughout this weblog given its now entrenched global culture poignancy. Any reader not aware of the term – largely used as an academic descriptor in specific circles – will have undertaken a web-dictionary search for its meaning.

But to recap, the following general definitions are given:

Derived from the Latin “simulacrum”:
“likeness or similarity”(initially as ascribed to icons of the gods)
“a representation or image of something”
“something similar; a vague, tentative or shadowy resemblance”
Came to be viewed as a copy of the original and so lacking in original substance/quality

Baudrillard argues that the copy has become so pervasive in contemporary society that the simulacrum becomes the “real thing” (to quote the Coca Cola strapline) and so the hyper-real becomes the truth.

Whereas Plato saw 2 versions of the copy (the faithful and the intentionally distorted used to 'correct' visual perspective on pillars, tall statues etc), Baudrillard sees 4 versions:

1. basic reflection of reality
2. distortion of reality (in many ways)
3. pretence of reality (where there is no actual original model, but created as loose multi-perceptual configuration)
4. simulacrum – which “bears no relation to any reality whatsoever”

The 1960s Baudrillard, like the late 19th century Neitzsche and Plato millennia earlier, sees this as a negative occurrence, and indeed a ploy, used for effectively 'manufacturing culture' and 'creating new realities', so instilling an ever bigger divide between (wo)man and the (enlightened) truth that is nature.

However, the 1960s Deleuze further describes the process of man-made repetition as actually unique given its directed progression, instead viewing nature as the systemic and generalised (the sequence of: sun/moon, day/night, seasons, etc); so QED the very process of simulacrum a valid social progression.

Whilst these viewpoints exist in the echelons of philosophy, over the last half century, the worlds of commerce and policy-formation have come to absorb the Baudrillardian description, given the meteoric level of 'Americana' culture-creation which arose from the late 1940s onward, itself duplicated across the world.

The Foundations of “The American Dream” -

The vital elements of what was once called 'global Americanism', obviously under-pinned by capitalism, stemmed from the ideology of an ever improving lifestyle; as per the 'American Dream', was eventually available to all.

Yet, as others well recognised, that betterment for American society and its individuals from 1945 onward had (ironically) been enabled by the combination of specific factors and outcomes: the Federal Reserve, the Bretton Woods Agreement and the victor's post WW2 inbound global liquidity flows.

The previous creation of a wholly autonomous Federal Reserve (as today) enabled the ability to print money at will (so able to win WW2 on both European and Pacific fronts massive production of munitions and transport). The Bretton Woods Conference of 1944 ostensibly created the IMF and World Bank and other systems so robustly conjoining international monetary transactions. Which in turn enabled the various payments from foreign governments (lend-lease repayments from allies and reparation payments made from the new installed authorities of the old 'axis powers' of Germany and Japan; this partly through immediate currency but partly by way of industrial agreements.

Thus America's win of what had ostensibly been for it a global war meant that it could capture large portions of the associated international wealth potential, turning that into wealth creation and so liquidity to trickle-down through its banking sector, through Wall St, through commerce and industry and through its society of ever increasing upward consumption.

This formula then, ie all that went before, was the basis of an envied society; a technically progressive society formed from education, comfort and joy (via entertainment). It was what allowed middle class families to buy the cheap and cheerful import of the VW Beetle for their children's college years, provided the imported iron-ore for its own steel-making, a portion of the imported oil for its plastics industries, both materials under-pinning Detroit's previously far more aspirational cars, and provided the foreign (Japan at first) sourced components which went into American branded white goods and brown goods.

The Social Construct of the 'American Dream' -

However, ironically although American consumer success had been built upon cheap inbound imports (visible and less so), American society itself became ever more distinctly insular and arguably isolated. Obviously not in a similar way to the previous cases of China or Japan, (seeking to avoid what they saw as corrupt internationalism), but obversely.

For most Americans the rest of the world was a long long way off and any desire to travel there had been 'cured' by WW2, especially for returned servicemen. The world beyond American shores was a shattered world of general deprivation. After the war only the rich, commercially-minded and culturally-aware, saw opportunities for either cheap import trade or an American 20th century replication of the European Grande Tour.

The 1950s film 'Funny Face' provides a idealised snapshot of the era.

Starring Audrey Hepburn, Fred Astaire and Kay Martin, a New York fashion magazine discovers their 'new face' in a bookish unmaterialistic philosophy student (Hepburn). An offer to travel to Paris for a fashion photo-shoot is agreed with her primary objective of meeting a reputed philosopher. But she herself philosophically returns to 'the American way' after the European 'high-brow' exhibits himself as little more than a self-conceited, woman-chasing, “typical” man. She then enters the arms of Astaire for a presumed “happily ever after”.

Thus the intriguing world of European high-culture is depicted as sham, in favour of the materialistic stability and inferred wholesomeness of 'American Dream'

In an evolved simulacrum of typical Hollywood self-reference, the opening sequence of 'The Devil Wears Prada' is literally super-imposed over Funny Face by plot and location. A similar 'anti-fashion' character (Anne Hathaway) likewise reluctantly working for a NY fashion magazine is also transformed to the aspirational norm. The opening sequence shows her exiting a New York subway station; doing so in front of the apparent self-same book-store in which the bookish Hepburn was discovered

This the all too typical exercise of supposed directorial 'cleverness', wherein Hollywood cinematic self-reference creates further simulacrum. With any knowledgeable viewer possibly (and ridiculously) believing they too are 'in the know' and so somehow special for being so, and very likely in this camara-phone era, seeking to make art out of their own everyday life.

One sub-theme of the plot to 'American Beauty' alludes to this long before the notion of the cinematically influenced self-directed, pictorially based 'life' became merged into the norm].

On the Road -

In Part 2 investment-auto-motives demonstrated how today “the car is the star” of EM aspiration, at the top of the consumption lifestyle ladder.

This then an obvious re-run of the previous 'advanced markets' template across the USA and remainder of the triad regions.

By the time Jack Kerouac had written his now almost mythical 1951 counter-culture novel for the 'beat-nik' generation - opposing consumerism in favour of experentialism - the far more socially powerful fact is that the automobile had already become wholly engrained within the national psyche, familial psyche and individual psyche.

Ever more remote suburban 'satellite' neighbourhoods had been created by virtue of the automobile (Los Angeles the prime example) which along with extensive country-side settlements meant that the car was a very necessary personal travel tool to undertake basic everyday functions, for trips to the shopping mall or to town, and as a weekend escape mechanism or for a longer holiday. All the while an ever more prevalent symbol of achievement and notional social status.

Automobiles and Pop Culture -

As such an engrained totem, the car and truck become an ever more important staple element and instrument within cinema, TV and music from the 1930s onward. Sixty years later the prime components of dedicated and general video games such as the best known Grand Theft Auto - as personal realities become further blurred. And revived from grass roots, street level with productions like 'Fast and the Furious' (and sequels) aswell as retro-flavoured efforts like 'Gone in Sixty Seconds' and now the game inspired 'Need for Speed'. 

Yet, the true heyday for the USA was the booming post-war era, from the mid 1950s to the 'muscle-car' peak by the early 1970s, and a plethora of associated films by the mid 1970s to re-boost a then flagging US economy.

In Summary:

Music-wise, initially 'Rockabilly' bands drawing their inspiration from a broad mix of influences, including 'blue-grass', 'beat-nik' and importantly a self-created, “built not bought” 'hot-rod' culture.

Car-based films:
'Thunder Road'

Musical references to specific vehicles and hot-rod terms becoming intrinsic to (unsurprisingly) the 'Motown' musical output of Detroit. The Ford Mustang production line used in one early music video by Martha Reeves for 'Nowhere to Run'; the pony-car also referred to by Wilson Pickett in' Mustang Sally' in the same year of 1965. Conversely, the Californian lifestyle - representing youth and broad 'counter-culture' - offered by likes of The Beach Boys and their "309", Ronny and the Daytonas with a "Little GTO", and the humour of Jan and Dean's "Little Old Lady From Pasadena" in her 'hopped-up' Dodge. 

Car-based films:
'Fireball 500'
'The Great Race' (early auto era retrospective)
'Le Mans'

Musically, the obvious references to car-culture became diluted as musical influences broadened with retro, ethnic, heavy rock and classical infusions.
However, this decade saw a generated interest in coast to coast and similar long distance car sprints, often brash and illegal and so popularly celebrated as “sticking two fingers up to 'the Man'”. Such filmic story plots were matched by TV series, with ironically anti-heros playing both against and for the law; so demonstrating the way in which 'counter-culture' is absorbed into the systemic norm.

Car-based films:
'Vanishing Point'
'American Graffiti (a hyper-real 1950s simulacra retrospective)
'Two Lane Blacktop'
'Dirty Mary, Crazy Larry'
'Gone in Sixty Seconds' (re-made in 2000)
'Cannonball Run (films 1,2,3 and inspiring later events)
'Gumball Rally' (inspiring the later '3000' event)
Smokey and the Bandit (films 1,2,3)
Cannonball Run
The Driver
Starsky and Hutch
Dukes of Hazzard

Automotive 'Commodification' of Counter-Culture -

As seen previously with the predominantly southern black 'Blues' sound, the predominantly white 'Beat-nik' movement and the later muted rebellion of the white college-boy Beach Boy's sound, the embodiment of contrast (or the flip-side in record parlance) is quickly absorbed by commercialism. Whatever is seen to emerge as potentially popular becomes modified, packaged and sold.

This is seen by Starsky's role, his inferred polish immigrant background, his bright red, white-striped Ford Gran Torino (playing the role of police-car in the imagined 'Bay City' of S. California), it is typically the marginalised and often foreign elements which formulate a 'counter-culture' which itself becomes absorbed into the mainstream.

But there is no better automotive example than the plucky little 1963 VW Beetle 'Herbie'.

“Think Small” Across the Big Screen -

It seems that Herbie was the last character created by (the then) Walt Disney Productions whilst under the watchful eye of Walt Disney himself, the Beetle chosen because its innate shape and size evoked a pet-like reaction, it was the anti-thesis of the big boxy American saloons of the period, and also was itself a worldwide product, from Europe to Mexico to Brazil to S.Africa to India to Australia. It was the perfect 'global vehicle' for Disney's and America's soft-power play.

However, ironically, here was a car which in reality came into being through Hitler and the Nazis as the 'strength through joy' vehicle for the German masses. It formed the base of its small lightweight military vehicles in WW2. It was resurrected as a reliable and critically cheap mode of mass transport after the war. It was imported into the USA and perversely publicised by a Jewish advertising firm with the now famous “Think Small” tag-line. And (again ironically) within America became a badge of anti-war, eco-friendly, pro-gay left-wing 'socio-intellectualism'. As such the embodiment of a heavily west coast influenced counter-culture against the east-coast 'establishment'.

[NB For those less aware, the US political system generally consists of east coat, mid-west and southern states Republicans (various protestant churches) verses west-coast and northern Democrats (jews, catholics and the absorption of other less powerful minorities. This seeming culture-war has extended throughout the US media for decades. (However, Lewis Carol's “the Walrus and the Carpenter” is highly apt regards entwined interests)].

'Herbie' then was seen by Hollywood's 'champagne left' as the perfect vehicular foil for national and international distribution, sales and income, offering an underdog which can become embraced by large sections of the immigrant derived American public, since 'he' (in an anthropomorphic manner) represents them.

In the first 1969 film 'the Love Bug' the car is first purchased in San Francisco for the maid of a socialite; hence with immigrant overtones from the start, and is victorious against a dastardly, upper-class British race-driver. In the 1974 film 'Herbie Rides Again' Herbie is owned by an elderly lady who faces the loss of her home by an unscrupulous rich developer, wherein the car and his human and vehicular friends come to her aid. The 1977 film 'Herbie Goes to Monte Carlo' sees the race format re-appear in France, this time against a German 'baddie' and involving a diamond theft. The 1980 film 'Herbie Goes Bananas' is set in Mexico wherein the car and a young boy experience different adventures, posing as various locals from taxi-service to farmers, using bananas to avoid the escape of criminals seeking to steal an antique golden disc. A 1997 television-film was made also called 'The Love Bug'. In 2005 'Herbie Re-loaded' was distributed, this time with a female lead and using the familiar regeneration of a previously scrapped Herbie and good vs evil plot on the race-track; commercially synergising NASCAR with VW then new Beetle.

The crux of the matter here is that the counter-culture object – in this case the loveable car – becomes engrained into the norm through the layering of applied emotionality, and so influence, via the story itself.

As regards Baudrillard's posited theory of simulacrum and the hyper-real, the successive Herbie sequels (which each demonstrate various subtle sub-plots) demonstrates the seemingly similar – but actually often subtly visually changed – icon.

In doing so, The Disney Corporation, effectively created an embedded cultural short-hand (by way of that icon) in which the modest good overcomes brash evil, and critically implicitly: “all roads lead to America”.

The Dream as The Real -

Thus we can see that film – the primary vehicle of the 'American Dream' – has seeped so deeply into an American consciousness, and increasingly worldwide consciousness, through its unifying impact, that the publicly consumed 'image object' (as theoreticians might say) has become a substantial portion of a personal reality for many millions, if not some billions, of the world's 7.2 billion people.

The American Dream then, is both a distant lifestyle expectation for the global masses, and ironically simultaneously through immediate visual absorption, a created 'alternative reality which people already populate to differing degrees.

From creating immediate consumer desires amongst the masses, to the belief by supposedly intellectual others that 'one is aware' of the depth of the socio-cinematic impact, to now the smart-phone extolled as an instrument of public good via citizen reporting whilst in actuality eroding privacy.

The fact remains that today 99.9% of society is image-immersed, those images accompanied by apparent 'truths'.

Far Earlier “Merged Constructs” -
“The Wonderful World of Disney”

The merging of belief and created worlds could be said to have arrived with religion, but in the televisual sense, truly came to being with the advent of manipulated photography (eg the Victorian fairies at the bottom of the garden created through double exposure) and specifically with cinematography (ie the seemingly very threatening head-on advancing steam locomotive).

At this point by the 1880s, the power of the image upon a naïve public was irrefutable, but obviously by the 1950s image, whilst still very influential, had lost that merging of two worlds.

To once again mesh both image and real worlds, the cartoonist and film-maker Walt Disney sought to furthering the escapist fantasy aspect of amusement parks (eg Colney Island etc) in his own created image. Achieved fifty-nine years ago, when Walt Disney's cartoon creations were brought to life via the development of Disneyland, in Anaheim, south of Los Angeles, California.

During a pre-screen age the commercial imperative to connect the general public with famous yet remote figures through entertainment was arguably best established by Madam Tussauds via her waxwork museum. But as soon as the 'silver screen' arrived, a new set of intriguing characters were born. Yet whilst Tussauds would go on to replicate the human and non-human film stars of those early times through to today, it would be Walt Disney (and his brother Roy) that truly brought the screen to life.

Walt doing so literally through the now legendary group of theme-parks, originating from Disneyland in 1955.

A Snapshot of 20th Century Disney -

Given its social impact upon the world, a detailed history of Disney's activities and the emergent Disney Corporation is hardly required, but a snap-shot worthwhile. Simply because, for most of the public (American and otherwise) and the majority of the investment community, the history of the company which forms a cornerstone of popular culture remains patchy.

Animation began in the “pre-talkies” era with 'Alice's Wonderland', followed by 'Oswold the Lucky Rabbit'. From this came Mortimer Mouse (in 'Steamboat Willie' etc) which in turn gave fully formed Mickey Mouse. Soon joined by Minnie Mouse, Donald Duck, Goofy, Pluto etc.

The success of Mickey and 'Snow White' distributed via two powerful 'lot studios' provided expansion funds. In 1939 these monies built a new production centre in Burbank (still the HQ) for a new raft of releases, whilst in early 1940 the company undertook an IPO to re-supply production funding for new releases with infusing overtones: 'Pinocchio' (moralistic), 'Fantasia' (educational), 'Dumbo' (family) and Bambi (family).

Perhaps more importantly Disney sought to effectively create new American-made folk-tales (which could be seen as stemmed from 'old-country' European folk-tales) but 're-imprinting' the critical American identity and an early eco-consciousness, through regional stories on what was an diffuse and often uneducated public. So 'Song of the South' (a prototype mixed live-animation effort), 'So Dear to My Heart', 'Seal Island' and 'The Vanishing Prarie' were made.

[NB This also coincided with true mass motoring, inspiring people to buy cars and buy gas/petrol so as to take road trip holidays to see “the real (ie natural) America' whilst staying at motor-hotels (mo'tels) and roadside eateries, so distributing city-made money into poorer country communities. Hence the car as a vehicle for economic good].

[NB As will be seen in Part 4, the plot of the original film 'Cars' (2006) alluded to the loss of these self-induced intra-state sub-economies].

The 1950s saw a mix of animation and live-action features, taken from disparate sources reflecting literary popular culture to that point. The former being 'Cinderella', 'Alice in Wonderland' and 'Peter Pan', the latter being 'Treasure Island', 'Robin Hood', 'The Sword and the |Rose', '20,000 Leagues Under the Sea'.

Coca-Cola sponsored Disney's first TV show in 1950.

But it was in 1954 that a TV series name 'Disneyland' came into being run on the ABC network. Obviously pre-cursing the physical opening of the same-name theme-park in 1955 – in which ABC had an interest - deployed as an obvious televisual conveyor and entry-point.

The TV series also called “Walt Disney Presents” and “The Wonderful World of Disney” went on to be the longest running weekly broadcast TV series until 2008, when it transferred to Disney's own cable channel

Thus, Disney's output has been consistently absorbed by 3 or 4 generations of Americans.

So much so that through TV, film and theme-park that it has now come to represents a form of hyper-real (ie truly tangible) escapism from the ills of American society and thus the modern world.

The corporation's long back-catalogue means that it has virtually engrained feel-good 'social antidote' into the minds of many.

So much so, that the strength of its associated brand values – arguably reflecting those same values of America's own 'founding fathers' – has allowed it to create what may be described as an alternative, preferred reality. Not just on screen or in a theme-park, but in the wider world by way of the Florida town (near DisneyWorld) named 'Celebration'.

Thus arguably, fact has indeed come to follow fiction, in which through community based rules, Disney has indeed created the experience of an improved society.

The Cult of Walt Reborn -

Whilst the Disney brand and its hand-written script name is known by millions the world over, for many decades the connection to the originator, Walt Disney himself, had been lost. Whilst invariably the case at corporate board level (given the pitch battle for control, especially through Michael Eisner period 1984-2005), what had become apparent was that not only today's children but also their parents and previous generation knew little of Disney's origins. And that problem would only grow as Disney sought to both draw from, and sell to, foreign cultures.

That dilemma of a lost connection to 'the spiritual father' thus required mending.

Hence the production of the recent Disney film 'Saving Mr Banks'. The film's mission to demonstrate how Walt Disney (and thus America) sought to retell in yet a more popularist manner the created middle-class children's stories of yesteryear. In this instance using the renowned children's favourite 'Mary Poppins' from the 1960s; a specific 'behind the scenes' story retold given the pinnacle of Walt's influence at the time. He himself a powerful soft-power actor on the heavily American induced worldwide stage, with Mary Poppins the outcome of a notionally American-British-Australian cultural marriage.

[NB Infact another political aspect of the film presumably seeks to maintain Australia as a strong friend of America, and conduit for US soft-power influence, given Australia's own Asian geo-political sphere].

In effect the re-telling of the Walt story, from the different corporate angle, seeks to reflect today's Walt Disney Company in Walt's own perceived image: as paternal to the world's children.

Thus very interestingly, yet another phase (or over-layed 'map' to quote theorists) of self-perpetuating and subtly evolving simulacrum.

To Follow -

Part 4 will speculate from the premis thus far provided, as to how corporate America and The Walt Disney Company in particular will seeks to once again reach-out across the world.

Yet, although still by far the greatest military super-power, it also recognises that future cultural conquests throughout much of the remaining 21st century will need to be based upon truly socio-economic grounds, as opposed to those previously seen in the geo-political sphere.

This in turn requires a local cultural filtration and re-application of the learning captured over the last 60 years or so, both from the social laboratory that was post WW2 California, and from the more culturally progressive foreign commercial out-posts which have served as the early ports of call for modern American corporate minds.

As seen throughout this web-log, given the immense psychological consumer attraction and broad economic traction of the automobile, it will remain centre-stage depicted in many forms, representing many characters and undertaking many roles: helping to weave McLuhan's 'global village' together, even in this supposed age of all invasive, meta-physical, cyber-space.